Onkyo A-9010 Amplifier

As the nineties slowly morphs from contemporary to historic, let's reflect and pause on the hi fi of the decade. It was all the Pioneer A-400's fault as I remember, and this began a trend for Sonys, Kenwoods, Marantzs, etc. all fettled notably for us.

Maybe it is more useful to discuss with regards to taste and surroundings. When I lived in the nineties in Japan,

How different flats and the houses were struck me - many use tatami mats widely and this gives a well-damped sound in contrast to the typical British abode with painted walls and carpeting. Another consideration is the fact that Brits have a tendency to get distinct loudspeakers to audiophiles that are Japanese, too. Either way, it's nurture not nature.

Now some two decades after, Onkyo has began to 'direct' the nineties, and has appear with its very own British-tuned products. The British operation of the company is blessed with great passionate people who know a decent sound when they hear one, so a UK-tuned amplifier was always going to be a fascinating thing. Given its cost, the challenge was to make substantial upgrades to its sound, without spending so much money that it would no more be an entry level stereo amplifier.

Interestingly, as opposed to the usual Class D modules you may expect for such a product, the A-9010 uses distinct low-impedance Darlington output transistors from Sanken jogging in Class AB. It's less common than it was previously, although many audiophiles still believe this to be the most effective compromise between practicality and sonics. The end result is an asserted 44W RMS per channel in a 8ohm load, which will be about enough to drive most speakers in most British rooms.

A sizable, framework- beefy extruded aluminium and type power transformer heatsinking was fitted, as well as four audio-level capacitors. The circuitry all sits on a chassis designed to isolate the parts from sound- degrading vibrations that are outside, and there are chunky gold plated speaker terminals.

The Onkyo may be just a little more finely fettled than some, but it's still a budget amplifier that is Japanese - and to this end it has a predictable record of facilities that have not changed since the seventies, let alone the nineties. It is well turned out with a nice satiny brushed alloy the pressed steel casing as well as front panel is not as flimsy as one might expect, for the price. With a typically solid feel and smooth controls, Onkyo has done a great job of concealing its budget origins.

Sound quality

Having reviewed a number of budget Japanese amplifiers through the years, I have a good concept of what to expect.

At this cost they have a tendency to have a breezy and bright sound having a slightly metallic upper group, vivid treble as well as a bass that is adequate but rather vague. The overall sound is normally not unpleasant, and at first you believe it's really rather notable in the cost. But prolonged listening tends to reveal rather a sound that is prosaic and insipid; it completely fails to involve the listener, although it's not bad. This really is just what the Onkyo must avoid, and it's clear that it doesn't fall into such a trap. This stands in marked contrast - upon sound that a number of competitors at or only slightly above its cost serve up.

It is a lovely song made with distinguishing eighties synthesisers and samplers, and may sound fairly shut in, yet shrill on vocals. The Onkyo manages astonishingly well and rises to the challenge better than anticipated. Kate's voice sounds icy, yet does not veer into harshness - unlike some other budget amplifiers I 've attempted. The A-9010 (UK) treads a well-judged central course and locations it fairly deep into the mixture. Behind it sits those distinct sampled drum patterns, which can sound curtailed on lesser amplifiers because they are highly damped and nowhere near as lively as you'd anticipate drums to be. The Onkyo takes a middle path that is practical, and seems swift and lithe enough to catch much of their energy and impact, without shoving them unduly to the fore. On a good system the relatively cloudy mix of the record starts to open up, and there is undoubtedly a sense of this occurring here.

Next up, some crafted seventies rock courtesy of Steely Dan. Aja is a masterpiece of its age, and sounds brilliant to today. For a rock record it is extremely dry, but with an excellent amplifier it could fill out as well as command the space. The title track proves notable; Donald Fagen's voice might be a bit nasal and forward, and the close-miked piano sometimes comes over as brittle with low-cost solid state electronics; but the A-9010 (UK) takes things in its step I and shows its wonderful natural balance.

It is so and quite a dynamic record quite a work out for a comparatively low-powered amplifier such as this, but the Onkyo isn't thrown by the crashing drum kit breaks. It seems to make the most of the power it has, although in absolute terms, it doesn't quite have the range of a powerful layout at three times the cost. That powerful bass guitar line that underpins the song is given weight that is great, and is enjoyably supple and tuneful too.

Moving to some classic jazz in the shape of Miles Davis' So What, the Onkyo proceeds to impress. This is less sophisticated than Aja, but demands rock-solid control to correctly carry the contagious beats, and a decently realistic tone to deal with that soaring trumpet. It's way more convincing than you have a right to expect in the price, and manages to snap the recorded acoustic guitar into sharp focus and find the instruments having a good amount of precision. Although it's just a little two dimensional compared with an amplifier at the price, the soundstage is astonishingly wide too. It gives some sense of depth standpoint, but if you want evidence that it isn't totally blameless, then this is where you should appear. Nevertheless, it serves a beguiling and enveloping sound up and makes this wonderful jazz standard a delight to listen to. This is really something I cannot say about anything else at or near the A-9010 (UK)'s cost.


The very first job of any budget amplifier isn't to sound terrible, and the Onkyo A-9010 (UK) breezes by means of this challenge with ease. Then it goes on to produce a really quite lovely sound that totally belies its price. The ear never transgresses, and it conceals its tracks brilliantly, although it is not the greatest amplifier on earth of course. What it does right is something that lots of amplifiers costing many times do - which would be to sound fun and unerringly musical. Forget about the UK-tuned amps of the nineties, the blend of bargain basement price and unalloyed sonic appeal of the Onkyo reminds me. It is a recipe that appeals far beyond the shores of Britain, I dare say.

Onkyo A-9010 Amplifier photo